Postcard from Penang

One of the most picturesque places in Malaysia, this island is also it’s food capital since you get the finest Malay, Korean, Singaporean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian food for a price which won’t make holes in your wallet…

One of the most picturesque places in Malaysia, this island is also it’s food capital since you get the finest Malay, Korean, Singaporean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian food for a price which won’t make holes in your wallet. Besides food, there’s so much to do and see in Penang like the nocturnal joy-rides in neon-lit cycle-rickshaws very much like Singapore’s “trishaws”.

The rickshaws take you to the Batu Ferringhi which has Penang’s most breathtaking beaches. The balmy, scenic surroundings make this place a world-class resort with it’s rows of shops and restaurants. As the sun sets, the miles long sidewalk street bazaar opens up its’ makeshift stalls (like in Pattaya) offering tourists a variety of cheap merchandise bearing designer names in clothes, shoes, handbags, watches, goggles, CD’s, VD’s, and computer-games but you need to haggle for your Y.S.L., Gucci, Guess, Nike and Dior imitations. More interesting than these are the local handicrafts, souvenir shops and international cuisine stalls.

Just as Singapore has its’ “Little India” in Sirangoon locality, Penang has its’ “Little India” too, a sort of Tamil town which neighbours the Chinatown. You find quaint barbershops here with John Abraham posters (apro John has almost replaced Shahrukh in Malaysia). Music from South Indian films fills the air (A.R. Rehman mostly) while people shop fro Indian masalas, artificial jewellery, papads, clothes, bindis and henna. We were taken one afternoon to Little India, Chinatown and other interesting landmarks by Mr. and Mrs. Pishu Hassaram who run the Sadhu Vasvani mission in Penang. Pishu and myself had met a month ago in Goa, where we were both invited along with some others to lecture at the “International Vegetarian Congress.”

Hindu and Chinese temples co-exist peacefully along with mosques in Penang. The Mahamariaman Hindu temple is the oldest Hindu temple in town, established in 1933. Inside, Lord Subramaniam’s statue stands richly decorated in gold, silver, diamonds and emeralds.

The Chinese Goddess of Mercy temple, 200 years old, stands on land donated by the East India Company to early Chinese settlers. This Goddess, Kuan Yin is a Bodhisattva i.e. a being who has attained Nirvana but stays behind to save and help people in this physical world of suffering.

The Kapitan Keling Mosque, built in the early 1800’s is the most historic in Penang. Then there’s a row of Chinese temples showcasing a superb range of various artistic architectural styles.

Penang has the world’s largest toy museum where you see over 1,00,000 items of international brands of toys and models including Barbies, Aliens, Disney characters, Spiderman, X-man, Matrix, Superman, Shrek, Terminator, Predator and hundreds more. However, it lacks the charm of God Coast’s (Australia) Warner Bros. theme park. The museum is a treat for children and adults alike, a unique place where you find characters from Star wars and Lord Of The Rings.

There’s more to see as you come out of the museum and the child in you will enjoy the half-an-hour ride in a toy-train which takes you to the highest hill in Penang where you get the most breathtaking view of Penang’s sea-shore, the town and the five kilometers long bridge which connects this island to the mainland.

There’s a vibrant Indian community in Penang. The Tamil population was in a Diwali-celebrations mood while the Sindhis were preparing for a function on 24th November which is Dada Vasvani day when most of Penang goes vegetarian to celebrate this meatless-day. A few Parsi families existed in Penang till the late 1950’s but today, there are none. However there’s one solitary Parsi family in Ipoh which is halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Must visit them next time!!

By Ruby Lilaowala | Tuesday, November 14, 2006 10:27:47 IST